Request for White DOP
Burgundy DOP Côtes du Couchois
Proposal to extend to the white wines
Promoting an appellation requires, besides the obvious necessity of quality for its products, a set of criteria to cover a market sector and to secure for its growers a proper remuneration and therefore a real encouragement.
The concept of product variety and especially the possibility of offering a variety of red and white wines is a significant asset for the promotion of the appellation in its entirety.
Through the centuries
AT THE TIME OF EUMENE
Shortly before his death in 311, Eumène d'Autun was the author of the eulogy to Emperor Constantine. The following chapter, taken from this record as it was translated by Roger Dion in 1951, reveals valuable insights:
The inhabitants of Autun, had the privilege, over those of Langres, of being closer to the Côte de Bourgogne which, over a length of about 70km, from Nuits and Beaune to Givry and Saint-Gengoux, spreads over less than 50km from their town. Before the end of the 3rd century, they had succeeded in cultivating a vineyard on this hillside, which the eulogy to the Emperor Constantine, around 311, describes as a remarkable work ("perspicua"), an object of admiration ("mirantur") and envy ("invidia"). However, it was far from being possible for their cherished vines to be expanded to the entire Côte near Autun. It covered only the northern half of it, in the north of the Dheune. Not that, at the south of this river, the Côte was less easily accessible nor less appropriate for vineyards. But in this direction, the Autunian companies were opposed to the ambitious plans of another city, a considerable one as well, and endowed with a river port, which was a precious advantage that nature denied to Autun, it was Cabillonum (Chalon sur Saône).
Certainly, and as Roger Dion's map shown in his book, we could learn three important lessons from this episode:
- Côte, as described, spreads across the north of the Dheune and that is also the case of the Côtes du Couchois (red circle on the map).
- Côte, despite the efforts to come closer to Autun, is limited to the northern half because of the strong rivalry of Chalon in the south. De facto, the Côtes du Couchois are the closest part of the Côte from Autun and most likely the limit zone of cultivation.
- Côte des grands crus, again according to the map, is defined by the Jurassic limestone zone and then fades away with the primary rocks. We will try to demonstrate, thanks to the geological study of these soils, that the Côtes du Couchois are well located in this bounding zone, historically and geologically linking the Côtes du Couchois to the last growing area of the current Côte de Beaune towards the Autun basin and therefore on a specific soil of the Côtes du Couchois.
DURING MIDDLE AGE
The boundary of the dioceses
The influence of the monks on the vineyard is undeniable, just as it is uncontestable to consider the limits of the medieval dioceses of Autun and Chalon-sur-Saône which clearly separate the Côte which includes the Côtes du Couchois from the Côte that includes the Côte Chalonnaise.
The proximity of the Côtes du Couchois to the current Côte de Beaune is therefore not only historical and geological, but also of spiritual significance. On this subject, the cures of Volnay and Saint-Sernin (Côtes du Couchois) are most probably the achievements of the abbots of Saint-Andoche.
IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY
The local production
This demonstration, however, only makes sense as far as it is possible to demonstrate the historical wine growing in this region of the Côte, which later became the Côtes du Couchois.
The cellars of the Château de Couches provide evidence that wine has been grown and traded for more than four centuries, and those of the storehouses of Dijon Museum dating from the 15th century confirm this. However, as the characteristics of the grapes are not recorded, the production of white wine is not provable, the oldest evidence is probably the cellar register of Vignes Martin in Saint-Sernin du Plain where it is recorded that Gamay Blanc was planted at the end of 1899 (excerpt below):
STATE OF AFFAIRS
THE WINE SECTOR
The Côtes du Couchois sector is a sector involving a group of players producing mainly wine for bulk sales (mainly to wine merchants in the Beaune area) and, to a lesser extent, the production of bottles.
Only a very limited number of players grow grapes for sale.
It should be noted that the land is increasingly used for the production of Crémant de Bourgogne to the disadvantage of the small producers of still wines.
The purpose of the initiative is then to encourage the conservation and development of the domains through the promotion and visibility of the product.
The sector is struggling and it is worth pointing out that since the acknowledgement of the geographical denomination, the number of players has been reduced by more than half. Through the lack of recognition and the absence of a variety of products, some growers are moving towards more lucrative crops in the immediate future, but what will happen in the long term?
The AOC Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois is not included in the overall growth plan of the major wine merchants and even the principal wine merchant in the sector, the Cave de Mazenay was not selling this name until its recent handover (June 2017). By contrast, a number of wineries also have a trading activity, which favours a real dynamism in promoting this name and local selling. At the same time, an oenotourism approach based on the richness of the local heritage enhances the promotion of the name.
The total land area of the designation is 224Ha but the total size of the claimed parcel is not more than 10Ha. This state of affairs is mainly due to the lack of valorisation of the designation in the traditional distribution circuit but also to the lack of range effect (designation in red only).
To date, about ten domains produce the complete range of the wines claimed in Burgundy Côtes du Couchois and six of them are accounting for more than 75% of the production with an almost exclusive bottled distribution. It is to all those people that we must ensure a real capacity for development.
The land area planted with Chardonnay is presently 31.0330 ha with a high chance of claiming the denomination as the domains who claim it in red already sell their white wines in bottles. It is undeniable that the variety range effect will therefore have a multiplying impact on the claimed denomination and therefore its recognition. The short-term and medium-term objective is to grow beyond 50 hectares of vineyards in order to secure a vital presence on the markets for the reputation of the designation.
The value of bulk white Burgundy wines depends on the geographical region and is not very meaningful in the Couchois, as most of the production is sold in bottles. Nevertheless, if the price of the bottle sold by the estates producing AOC is compared to other bottles of Burgundy, the selling price is much higher with an average of around 8€.
Obtaining the denomination Côtes du Couchois in white would have a second positive factor since it would allow to propose a dual range of wine and thus a revalorisation of the white sold under the AOC Burgundy.
This initiative is in coherence with the efforts of the Syndicat des Bourgognes (Burgundy Association) to promote Burgundy wines, especially by promoting the use of local geographical denominations. Each denomination brings its specific identity, its character, its valorisation without prejudice in terms of competition with other denominations.
All united for white wines
All the players in the Burgundy Côtes du Couchois region are supporting this request to enlarge the recognition of the denomination to include white wines. As we have seen previously, there is a real necessity for the actors to have a wider variety and there is a growing need for the denomination to have greater visibility in order to survive. This request is a response to these imperatives.
It is also based on soil studies to demonstrate that the soils of the Couchois are particularly well placed to produce white wine while also bringing unique characteristics to it.
The soil study carried out by the Sigale company between 2015 and 2016 highlighted without doubt the location of the Côtes du Couchois on a clay-marl type soil (clay-coloured clays) dating from the Triassic period and therefore very different from the soils of the neighbouring coasts.
One of the notorious features of these clays is that they are considered to be excellent lands for white wines growing.
With nearly 400 core drilling points and more than a dozen pits (photo above), the work of the Sigale company has made it possible to compile a highly accurate map of the Côtes du Couchois and a precise soil analysis (see following pages).
The soil, for all that, is only meaningful if it gives a real identity to the wine its produces. The white Burgundy of the Côtes du Couchois does have its own identity, as it was demonstrated in a recent study conducted by the BIVB: "Characterisation of Burgundy with geographical dominance".
Here is what it says about the white wines of the Couchois:
White wines, currently in AOC BOURGOGNE awaiting to obtain the name BOURGOGNE COTES DU COUCHOIS.
White wines have a fairly fluid pale yellow gold colour with silvery-green yellow reflections. Its nose suggests notes of hawthorn flowers, lemon, pear, white peach, with nuances of rose, acacia flowers, liquorice, pepper, sometimes with hints of forest undergrowth, blackcurrant buds and mango. The wine expresses itself differently on the pallet according to the limestone or clayey origin of the soils. The limestone soils give to it a soft entry followed by a fresh and juicy fruitiness, well stretched towards a tense, salty and lemony ending. The wines made from the vineyards planted in those clays reveal a supple entry moving towards a consistent mid-palate supported by nuances of white-fleshed fruit enhanced by a pleasant hint of freshness. The finish is tender on the aftertaste and allows the aromatic persistence to express itself further long.
THE SOMMELIER'S RECOMMENDATIONS
White wines currently in AOC BOURGOGNE awaiting the COTES DU COUCHOIS appellation: : fresh wines on citrus fruits will brighten up shellfish and grilled or steamed fish. The fuller, richer wines will enhance sauced fish, white poultry, blanquette de veau and pressed or creamy cheeses such as a young Comté, Cîteaux, Reblochon or Saint Félicien.
Service temperature: 9 to 11 °C.
In the absence of support from the leading merchants and with no wide variety of products offered, it is extremely difficult to promote the denomination since, besides the need for substantial advertising expenditure and the resulting cost, the production itself, due to the more restrictive production conditions, is a handicap, especially when high quality is pursued.
It is therefore essential to be able to structure production along with premium products, intermediate products and vintages of higher quality and thus better value. However, this kind of diversification is not possible for white wines, which undeniably has a negative impact on the profitability of the domains.
Potential is certainly not enormous at first, but we must take into consideration a significant change over the last ten years, which is the significant reduction in the number of domains, which mainly concerns those who have not been able to adapt their economic model. The production of the most important domains hardly exceeds a few tens of thousands of bottles, but there has been sustained growth and a relatively recent starting point (obtaining the designation in red in 2000).
It is more than certain that the range effect combined with the recent changes in the appellation's trading circuits and the willingness of the vast majority of producers to promote the appellation will lead to a visible increase in claims and that this growth will be all the more quick and visible with the acknowledgement of the AOC Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois Blanc.